Since this is the first article of 2022, I thought it would be a suitable time to discuss change in our lives. Sometimes change comes suddenly and we are faced with making choices or decisions with limited information and/or time to respond. When this occurs, we make the best choice under the constraints. At other times, like with New Year’s Resolutions, we attempt to make changes under what we think are our terms. The most common of the New Year’s Resolutions are the resolutions relating to lifestyle and health.
Most New Year’s resolutions are made on a whim without much forethought. As a result, most are short-lived, causing us to fall back into our rut and continue down the familiar path. I believe that the resolutions would have better staying power if we looked at them differently. When I counsel patients on trying to make healthy lifestyle changes, I find that the most frequent problem is that people tend to attempt too big of a change too quickly. When this happens, we feel like we have failed and give up.
The better approach, to steal a concept from the movie What About Bob?, is to make a plan using “Baby Steps.” I have seen that small incremental changes that may seem too small to be effective initially, add up to significant changes over time. This avoids the frustration seen when the change requires a big sacrifice. For instance, for weight loss, I recommend that you simply cut a single carbohydrate out of your daily consumption each day. If you were consuming 200 grams per day, then the goal for tomorrow would be 199, then 198 the next day, and so on. The net result is that you are down 30 grams per day after one month. You would not feel bad eliminating one gram of carbs each day, but if your goal is to get down to 100 per day and you tried to cut one hundred grams immediately, you would feel awful and be hungry to the point that you would become frustrated and quit. The “Baby Steps” approach would take 100 days to accomplish instead of one day but would be easier to achieve even though it takes more time.
This is what I call the “Turning the Titanic Approach.” A huge ship requires quite a bit of time and distance to complete a turn, but a speed boat does not. Most of the time, our lifestyles become engrained in our behavior and the speedboat approach may work for a brief time, but then it is also extremely easy to turn back. If we take the time and effort to make the gradual effort to “Turn the Titanic,” we hopefully stay the course and maintain the desired changes more readily than the speed boat.
A big part of the difficulty in making changes in our life stems from the lack of patience we have with making gradual life changes that produce gradual results. We have grown up in a society where immediate results are expected, and sacrifice and patience are not accepted. Most people expect a shot or a pill or a procedure to treat their issue but sometimes it requires making changes and being patient. Our culture has convinced us that the only importance in life is the “here and now” to the sacrifice of the past and future. It appears to me that previous generations put a much greater emphasis on their past and focused more on their future while understanding that the “here and now” was to be enjoyed, but it is not the main focus of life.
Change is hard, because in my experience, if it leads to something better, it probably requires sacrifice and patience. Change occurs much quicker and easier when it leads to something bad, such as the case when an addiction gets out of hand.
The key to making lasting change is to make the new behavior a habit. This requires time and repetition to the point of making something “second nature” to make it your new normal routine.
This also applies to our faith. If we try to dive into it and make radical changes quickly, we are much less likely to create the habit of reading the Bible daily or attending church or meeting God in prayer daily. If you start with a lesser frequency and move to a greater one, it will be easier and more lasting. God can help move things along faster and easier if it is part of His plan and we draw closer to Him.
As we look to the future and the appearance that we are headed into more uncertainty than we have experienced in the past, we need to rely on God much more than in the past. When we run into the events that change us without notice or warning, we need to establish the habit of turning to prayer and our fellow members in the Body to help us through these events and changes. For the things we want to change proactively, such as our health or lifestyle, I recommend setting a plan using baby steps, consistency, and patience to obtain the desired results.
Change is the one thing in life we can be sure is constant. How we decide to change, or how we deal with the change thrust upon us, goes to the essence of who we are and who we want to become. Change can be good, challenging, trying, exhilarating, rewarding, fulfilling, and frustrating. Most of all, it is hard. But without change, we do not grow or experience life. God gives us Free Will which we use to make decisions which in turn affect change. I pray that we use our Free Will to make the decisions that draw us closer to living in the Light so we can experience the life God desires for us.
Do not fear change. Embrace it and move toward the light. Our reward awaits us there.
– David Jayne, M.D.
Edited by Ann Jayne